Literature

Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

April 8, 2016
By
Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

For those of you who missed it, here is Levi Stahl’s 31-part Twitter essay from late last week, which responds to an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat comparing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to Widmerpool, the anti-anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time:   To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

Read more »

Ted Cruz as Kenneth Widmerpool next Halloween

March 28, 2016
By
Ted Cruz as Kenneth Widmerpool next Halloween

File under deep cuts. Recently in the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat suggested an apt analogy, or at least a plausibly shared archetype, between Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool, the fictional (anti) anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series: A dogged, charmless, unembarrassed striver, Widmerpool begins Powell’s novels as a figure of mockery for his upper-class schoolmates. But over the course of the books he ascends past them — to power, influence, a peerage — through a mix of ruthless effort, ideological flexibility, and calculated kissing-up. Enduring all manner of humiliations, bouncing back from every setback, tacking right and left with the times, he embodies the triumph of raw ambition over aristocratic rules of order. “Widmerpool,” the narrator realizes at last, sounding like a baffled, Cruz-hating Republican senator today, “once so derided by all of us, had in some mysterious manner become a person of authority.” This is not exactly a flattering comparison. But the American reader, less enamored of a fated aristocratic order, may find aspects of Widmerpool’s character curiously sympathetic. And some of that strange sympathy could be extended to Cruz. To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

Read more »

David Hall on The Last Hurrah

March 15, 2016
By
David Hall on The Last Hurrah

In timely coincidence with today’s primaries and the book’s return to print, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor received some well-tailored praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Hall, writing in the Columbia Daily Herald,  who suggests we: Take a breather from the daily pounding of politics and reflect: chaos, confusion, and gutter campaigning are not new. . . . Even today’s politics are not speeding away. We have survived travail through democracy. Good and thoughtful fiction lets us pause and reflect. Honing in on The Last Hurrah, an almost-story adapted from the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley, he writes of the book’s foreboding about the nature of the relationship between media and politics: Another poignant tale of American politics is The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. Set in an old and mainline northeastern city, the novel examines the dying days of machine politics when largess held voters in sway. Frank Skeffington, 72, believes he is entitled to one more term. His political compass loses its bearing against a young, charismatic challenger, void of political experience but adorned with war medals and good looks. O’Connor’s 1956 novel was prescient in portraying the impact television would have on politics. While The Last . . .

Read more »

Norman Maclean and the Christian Tragedy

February 16, 2016
By
Norman Maclean and the Christian Tragedy

The most recent issue of Commonweal includes “The River Runs On: Norman Maclean’s Christian Tragedies,” a long-form piece by Timothy B. Schilling, who goes on to read Maclean (expectedly, given the title) through both Christianity and tragedy—but most compellingly, through the author’s own often contradictory and ambivalent relationship to religion. You can read the piece in full here; a brief excerpt from Young Men and Fire that situates the Smokejumpers—first responders to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, from which the book takes its name— in this context follows below. Maclean tells us that most of the Smokejumpers believe in God. “You wouldn’t dare jump,” they say, “if it was empty out there.” But of the sixteen who descended to fight the fire, only three survived. What then—for them, for us—is the last word in this story? Does the Mann Gulch fire reveal the ultimate tragedy of all human experience? Or does it enjoin us to embrace the world’s faith traditions in looking for a life and a truth beyond death? As in A River Runs Through It, Maclean counters fatalism with Christian symbols and biblical allusions, including references to the Stations of the Cross, the Mass, Calvary, and the Book of Job. He . . .

Read more »

Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

January 12, 2016
By
Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

In addition to making an appearance in the “Briefly Noted” books section of the New Yorker, the Cheers equivalent of finding an empty chair between Norm and Cliff at the bar, this week Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project, published an opinion piece at the New York Times on singlehood and St. Teresa, riffing on her pilgrimage to Ávila, the saint’s town. Here’s a nugget of what’s waiting over at the NYT: Five hundred years after St. Teresa, and there are still very few models for women of how to live outside of coupledom, whether that is the result of a choice or just bad luck. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television show or a film about a single woman, unless her single status was a problem to be solved or an illustration of how deeply damaged she was. This continues even as more and more women are staying single longer and longer. I’ve been single for the most part going on 11 years now, and so I have heard every derogatory, patronizing, demeaning thing said about single women. “There has to be someone for you,” a married woman friend once said exasperatedly after I recounted another bad date. Implying, unconsciously, . . .

Read more »

An interview with Jessa Crispin at T + L

December 2, 2015
By
An interview with Jessa Crispin at T + L

From Molly McArdle’s interview with Jessa Crispin about The Dead Ladies Project at Travel + Leisure:  “Though they are not all ladies, her subjects took part in what could be called the creative life, whether they made, published, or fed great works of art. Crispin’s book mixes criticism, memoir, and travel writing into a collection of essays that is brutal and empathetic, languorous and impatient, smart and, well, smart.” *** What are the responsibilities of a travel writer? How do they differ from the responsibilities of a traveler? Do travelers have any responsibilities at all? “Of course travelers have responsibilities! You have the responsibility not to be an asshole! Not to see this country as being laid out on a platter for your taking. You are a guest—you have to respect that this place has nothing to do with you. Too often you see travelers looking at a landscape and asking, “What can I take from this?” Even the obnoxious dudes who make a big deal about the difference between the “traveler” and the “tourist.” Travel writers have an even greater responsibility, because then they are telling stories about this place that has nothing to do with them, and there is a very long . . .

Read more »

Jessa Crispin on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight

November 3, 2015
By

Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries and editor-in-chief at Bookslut and Spolia magazine(s), recently appeared on an episode of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, her former stomping grounds as book reviewer. Along with video of Crispin’s conversation (not Dorothy Gale, 2:12; running away to Romania, 6:00; “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee,” 7:58), there’s an excerpt from the book on William James and Berlin, and some quotes from the interview, if digital players leave you cold. You can read more about The Dead Ladies Project, here. . . .

Read more »

Juvenescence wins inaugural Bridge Award for Non-Fiction

October 19, 2015
By
Juvenescence wins inaugural Bridge Award for Non-Fiction

Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age was recently announced as the inaugural winner of The Bridge Book Award for Non-Fiction, facilitated by  the American Embassy in Rome, Casa delle Letterature of Rome, Nation-al Italian American Foundation (NIAF), American Initiative for Italian Culture (AIFIC), and Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori (FUIS). From the award description: “The Bridge” is aimed to reinforce the mutual understanding between Italy and the USA by exposing the reading public to the best works of fiction and nonfiction recently released in the two countries. The Award is meant to be a “bridge” that connects two cultures. On the heels of the win, University of Chicago Press promotions director Levi Stahl traveled to Rome to accept the prize on Harrison’s behalf; images from the ceremony follow after the jump. *** To read more about Juvenescence, click here.   . . .

Read more »

Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?

September 30, 2015
By
Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?

Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age explores the history of culture, from antiquity to the present, in order to frame how neotony, the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, has become central to our youth-obsessed, yet historically entrenched civilization. Mired in the past, and at the same time, forced to look forward, the way in which we frame life and death errs heavy on the side of protracting the cusp of adulthood. “While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, “wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.” From the Southern Humanities Review, which considers Harrison one of our foremost academics working today: Robert Pogue Harrison, an intellectual steeped in the philosophical and literary traditions of the Western world, may be the single most significant writer in the humanities today. In three of his previous books—Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition—he developed a particular style of writing that takes readers on a journey through time, tracing a particular concept or trope as it manifests itself in a wide array of literary and philosophical works. . . . In each of his . . .

Read more »

The Dead Ladies Project on tour

September 29, 2015
By
The Dead Ladies Project on tour

Appropriated from the Spolia Mag Tumblr, here are some upcoming readings and release events surrounding Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project. All are free and open to the public, except where indicated. *** The Dead Ladies are going on tour! September 29, New York  A conversation with Laura Kipnis at Melville House 46 John Street, Brooklyn 7PM October 1, Chicago Good old-fashioned house party (open to the public) 1926 W Erie 7PM October 5, London Reading at BookHaus 70 Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge 6:30PM October 12, Paris Reading, champagne, and launch party at Berkeley Books 8 Rue Casimir Delavigne 7:30PM October 15, Leipzig Cabaret! With opera singer Jennifer Porto! Details T/K (Image: Maud Gonne. Or me, in my traveling hat, I’m not sure.) *** To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here. . . .

Read more »

Search for books and authors